By Nancy Allen
A man who would be the herdsman at a planned 2,100-head dairy farm in Hopewell Township had manure pollution violations leveled against him in New Zealand where he ran a dairy for a few years.
But Ohio officials say the violations will not affect their decision on permitting the farm because the man won't be in charge of the operation. Prior plans were for him to manage the farm.
Albertus DeBruyn, a Netherlands native, withdrew his name from permits required by the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) and his name was replaced with that of J.C.J. Van Der Meijden, also of the Netherlands.
"It was a mutual decision to withdraw his name," said Jennifer Tiell, legal counsel for ODA. "It was around the time that Vreba-Hoff brought the past violations to our attention," that he withdrew his name.
ODA officials had not yet finished its background check of DeBruyn when he withdrew his name, Tiell said. Tiell said DuBruyn had several convictions under New Zealand's environmental laws that "were of concern" to ODA officials reviewing the permit and completing a background check on DuBruyn.
Vreba-Hoff Dairy Development, Wauseon, was helping DeBruyn navigate the ODA's livestock permitting process before he withdrew his name.
Kevin Elder, executive director of ODA's livestock permitting program, said neighbors should not be concerned about DeBruyn's involvement with the proposed dairy because he would be an employee of the dairy and not in charge of managing it.
"He's going to be the herdsman as we understand it, responsible for breeding the cows and taking care of their health, not managing the dairy or the manure," Elder said. "If he was directly responsible for managing the manure for the dairy, we would have raised additional questions on the dairy."
If the draft permits are approved as they are now, Van Der Meijden would be the sole owner of the dairy, Elder said.
Elder said the fact that DeBruyn would be an employee of the dairy would not impact ODA Director Fred Dailey's decision one way or the other on the permits, as long as DeBruyn is not managing or owning the farm.
"We go through these permits with a fine-toothed comb," Elder said. "When that (past violations) came up, we were still doing the work on the background check, but we never made a final decision. It stopped there."
Elder also said the system for prosecuting environmental violations is different in New Zealand than in the United States. He said many farms in Mercer County would have the same problems DeBruyn faced if their farms were located in New Zealand.
Elder said that Van Der Meijden plans to move to the area and be present on the dairy if the permits are approved and it is built.
James Holloway, the environmental compliance manager for Environment Southland, part of New Zealand's government, said DeBruyn paid all the fines against him related to environmental violations. However, DeBruyn still owes Environment Southland's consenting agency $10,898 for consent application fees, monitoring and analysis fees, Holloway said via e-mail.
New Zealander Murray Halstead, a former business associate of DeBruyn, said DeBruyn would be a good herdsman.
Halstead said DeBruyn had owed him a considerable amount of money for grazing services and a commission for selling DeBruyn's dairy in New Zealand. Halstead said the bills were paid after DeBruyn left New Zealand and Halstead initiated court proceedings to get the money.
"He understands dairy cows. He had very high quality cows in Holland and their bloodlines were excellent," Halstead said. "The environmental thing was really unfortunate. He was probably the first in this country to be made an example of. I think a lot of it was he was just short of money."
DeBruyn on Thursday said the reason he withdrew his name from the permit was because the permitting process was taking so long and he had to make a living. He currently is managing a dairy farm in Indiana.
The permitting process so far has taken a year and it would likely take another year to build the dairy if the permits are approved, he said. Also, unhappy neighbors could appeal ODA permit approval to the state Environmental Review Appeals Commission, a proces that could further delay the process.
DeBruyn said he felt unwelcome by some of the neighbors who he said are against foreigners.
Forty-three Rockford area residents, many living near the site of the proposed dairy farm at the northeast corner of Tama and Township Line roads last year signed a petition objecting to the dairy.
"With the petition last year, they shut the door on me," he said.